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Equestrian Related Injuries in NZ

horsesthreeInjury Prevention Research Centre Fact Sheet 32, December 2000.
New Zealand 1993-1998

  • Between 1993 and 1997 eleven people died from equestrian injuries.
  • Females accounted for 64% of these deaths.
  • A large number of deaths occurred when the horse rolled on top of the rider.
  • The regional area with the highest number of deaths was Canterbury - 36%.
  • 3,731 New Zealanders were hospitalised through horse related injuries between 1993 and 1998.
  • In 1994, 18% of injuries were from being kicked by the horse, by 1997 this had reduced to 12%.
  • 30% of injuries were sustained on farms and sport and recreational facilities. Only 3.5% were received while on public roads.

There is no such thing as a safe or bomb-proof horse. Even a quiet animal can be spooked starting a series of events that leads to injury. In fact, being overly confident with a seemingly quiet horse may increase the risk of injury, if this is interpreted that routine safety measures can be ignored. Horses are unpredictable so interventions are difficult.

Wearing protective clothing is the best policy. Protective gear such as helmets, non-slip gloves, the correct footwear, and safety stirrups will decrease chances of injury.

Legislation for mandatory wearing of helmets, such as for cyclists, will help decrease serious head injury. A suitable helmet, which meets the aesthetic criteria of riders as well as fulfilling safety standards, will need to be designed. Children in the vicinity of a horse should wear a helmet, whether they are mounted or not.

Ensure that the horse is matched with the rider's ability. No young or learner rider should ride a horse younger than five years and they should be supervised at all times. Older horses are best for beginners. 10-20 hours of instruction in horse handling and riding is the safest way to begin to enjoy horse riding.

A high injury frequency during lessons indicates that an assessment of riding schools and facilities is needed. Accreditation by an external body would ensure adequate safety measures were in place. It is suggested that an evaluation of teaching and use of falling techniques could provide a cheap method to reduce a variety of upper body injuries.

Knowledge of horse behaviour and rider education are effective countermeasures as injuries also occur while grooming or moving around the horse. A study in a rural community showed that two thirds of the children knew the correct way to hold a lead, and ten percent were unaware that they should wear riding boots when leading a horse, as well as when riding.

Education of parents in riding safety should be encouraged particularly in areas where parents perform a high proportion of the supervision of child riders.

Safety Measures

Everyone who rides horses, no matter how experienced or how careful, eventually falls off. The key is to ensure that you protect yourself from serious injury in falls by wearing protective gear.

Programmes designed to educate young people, particularly in rural areas, in safety behaviour have proved favourable. Awareness of the hazardous nature of horses increased along with more lesson taking and adult supervision.

  • Helmets: An approved safety helmet should be replaced every 5 years. A good helmet is like an airbag for your brain, it should be properly fitted and worn one inch above the rider’s eyebrows. Long hair should be tied back.
  • Footwear:Boots should have smooth heels and soles and be individually matched to the stirrup for size. Stirrups should be 2-3 cm wider than the boot, too small and the foot maybe stuck, too large and the rider becomes unstable. Feet can be easily crushed with the horses weight so wear sturdy footwear to prevent serious injury.
  • Gloves:Non-slip gloves should be worn to prevent friction injuries to the hands from a rope or reins.
  • Stirrups:Falling off a horse is dangerous enough without having your foot caught in the stirrup as the horse drags you along the ground, which can be fatal. Safety stirrups are designed to release your foot in the event of a fall. There are a variety of safety stirrups available.
  • Clothing:Baggy or loose clothing should not be worn while riding as it might catch on trees etc.
  • Tack:All equipment must be checked regularly for signs of fatigue and be correctly adjusted to fit.
Handling horses

On the ground:

  • The main safety rule is to let your horse know where you are at all times when you are handling it.
  • Exercise caution around the rear of a horse - the hind leg are well designed for kicking.
  • Do not hold reins or ropes in a loop that can trap fingers.

While Riding:

  • Choose your mount carefully to suit your capabilities. An older horse is generally quieter and more predictable.
  • Do not ride bareback unless completely skilled.
  • Learn how to control your horse before leaving the safely of the paddock or lesson environment.
  • Leave riding outside the paddock to the experienced riders.
  • Maintain a horse length’s distance behind other horses when travelling in groups.
  • Travel in single file on the road. However, when crossing do so while abreast of each other.
  • If riding through water or bush kick you feet out of the stirrups in case of a fall.

For copies of the Fact Sheet, which includes detailed statistics, please contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

December 2000. Fact sheet 32 was collated by the Injury Prevention Research Centre, Department of Community Health faculty of Medicine and Health Science, The University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand.

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